Creating characters in fiction is an interesting exercise, but it is critical for your story’s success. Depending on your process, developing a character profile can take the length of the book, or a few concentrated days of hard work. Some people know minimal detail when they start writing and learn their quirks and back history along the way; others define their character first, down to knowing which leg hooks into their underwear first and where they experienced their first kiss.
So far, my stories all start as dreams, with the leading characters all beginning their life as my favourite actors. Blame it on my love of cinema. For instance, the heroine in my first romance began life looking remarkably like Natalie Portman. (I’ve always loved Natalie). She has a quality to her that literally knocked me over the first time I watched her perform and still does to this day. Over the process of writing the first draft, my character came alive, revealing her true personality, but retained Ms Portman’s cheeky smile.
But, of course, there is more than window dressing involved to create an original. I know Samantha Grace, fellow blogger and resident funny girl, interviews her ladies and gents prior to writing. She knows quite a lot before the story begins whereas I tend to dump my characters in a situation and let them choose which way they will react.
Multidimensional characters drive the story forward. The past experiences a writer gives them determine how they react to situations. And as long as they behave in accordance to their established personality a reader will follow along. Give a shy girl a public speaking gig and she is not going to bounce up on stage, speak without breaking a sweat and be believable. Not without some serious coaching and brain surgery to turn off her panic.
Another point to decide on is the character’s ages. Trends in romances have varied over the years. At one point, it was very hard to find a romance where the heroine was above twenty. Lately, there has been a trend to show an older female finding love. I do love those stories because sometimes I don’t really want the younger girls to get all the dishy men to themselves.
I placed my first heroine’s age above 21 so I did not have to deal with parental consent issues and my third heroine below consent because that was part of her conflict. If you write a modern romance, this isn’t too much of a problem for you. But if you write romance in another era, and particularly another country, you want to arm yourself with some basic legal knowledge particularly about marriage issues and inheritance before you pin down their ages.
Overall, the best way to write well-rounded characters is to develop a genuine interest in other people. Listen to generations older and younger than yourself, their point of view will be considerably different and spark ideas for great characters, and possibly new stories. Writing can be a very solitary career, but a story is nothing without great characters and believable plot.
Whatever challenges you throw in their path, how characters react at the moments of conflict affects their appeal. Making their life perfect, and I did that on my very first story, will not give readers a reason to like them. Readers of romance expect just that: a romance between two different fully-developed people: people that have issues, flaws and believable personalities.
Do you have a method for discovering your characters back story? Do you have a sure-fire way to record it? I would love to hear about your process.